February 3, 2014

Fitness Tips For Ladies – Carbs are not the Devil!

February 3, 2014
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Bethan Sian JonesIm Beth… @bethansianjones on twitter ( give me a follow) :)

I’m Welsh but currently living the dream in London. I am a physiotherapist with 6+ years experience in the NHS … naturally I am also a health and fitness fanatic and LOVE living an active and healthy lifestyle. I also LOVE food… ALOT!

I spend much of my spare time training hard, and like to eat a clean diet. I have a blog ‘ BSJ’s Clean Kitchen ‘ dedicated to my clean culinary creative skills  -  http://bsjcleankitchen.blogspot.co.uk/

I enjoy all types of training but especially lifting heavy, compound movements, strongman and Olympic lifting being my fave :)

Fitness ladies… learn from my mistakes and eat your carbs!

This is a post about a personal matter I have battled with this past year… sounds a bit dramatic I know but here goes…

Around end of summer 2012 I had the fitness and life balance sorted, training 3-4 times a week, eating clean wasn’t an effort, I never felt the desire to binge on dirty food and I was at my leanest of around 14% body fat… happy :)
Exercise as we know is a drug and its addictive…before I knew I had been hammering HIIT training on a daily basis, sometimes even twice a day for about 6 months….that’s fine if your nutrition is bang on and you recover optimally.

This is where I went wrong… I fell into the “carbs are  the devil” trap… low carb became no carb and this may initially feel good and appear as if it’s giving you good results but over a longer period of time it’s damaging and unsustainable. Without realising it my daily macro intake was also far from enough…. quite shocking when looking back, I always thought I was bang on with my nutrition.

Most of you would probably think immediately that the effects would be weight loss but NO I did not loose weight or become skinny as a result… but the consequences of training hard and not recovering optimally were pretty damaging to my body.

Some people throw the term over-training syndrome about… essentially; yes I had all the symptoms of over-training syndrome. Them being…

  • Under-performing- unable to perform lifts, workouts I normally can,
  •  Loss of leanness
  • Tired, irritable, burnt out, no energy
  • Lowered immune system
  •  EPIC Binges on naughty foods like cake
  •  Decreased libido
  • Amenorrhea ( no periods)
  • Stress effect on my GI tract and development of stress related IBS.

However I strongly believe the term over-training is wrongly used… it’s not over-training that has caused the above but my poor recovery afterwards.
I feel you could train everyday as long as your post workout nutrition and recovery is bang on!

What happens when you train hard, don’t recover optimally and you are a female….?

Well after some research and chats with a few sports nutritional experts I was informed of exercise related Amenorrhea and something called the female athlete triad. This triad is also valid for people with eating disorders…. For those who know me I love food, and I couldn’t believe the results of poor nutritional recovery post training were on the same page as someone with an eating disorder… but yes essentially in both cases, your body has not got enough energy for what it needs to function!

The cascade of events: poor nutrition leading to decreased or no menstrual cycle leading to poor bone density is known as… THE FEMALE ATHLETE TRIAD 

 TRIAD 1: Poor energy availability
not eating enough food or cutting out entire macro groups (fat, protein, carbs).
What can begin as a harmless diet or lifestyle change can develop into a disordered eating pattern… ranging from moderate restrictions to extreme restrictions and eating disorders…. in my case I cut out carbs completely.

TRIAD2: Amenorrhea 
When an athlete is exercising and training intensely and making restrictions to their diet like eliminating carbs, the body is not receiving enough energy to perform its basic functions… sounds dramatic but true. The body is a clever thing; it will stop something else and use that energy to survive. Exercise also lowers estrogen production which helps the menstrual cycle. Amenorrhea is when you have missed three consecutive periods in a row.
Amenorrhea also causes low estrogen levels- a vicious cycle… this then can cause triad no. 3

TRIAD3: Decreased bone health
Decreased estrogen levels and poor nutritional intake can lead to decreased bone mass and the eventual development of osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Here is a link to a video Laurent Bannock (sports nutritionist) posted on Exercise related Amenorrhea after I sent him a message on twitter for some advice back in the summer.


So with the above information and knowledge and after 8 months of Amenorrhea, fatigue and finding even three training sessions a week with poor performance… I needed to change and turn things around whilst mending the damage I had caused…

I paid a few visits to  the doctor regarding my Amenorrhea  (nope, def not pregnant) and some blood tests to rule out any food intolerance cause for my IBS… all negative ( thank god as I love food).
Some quality advice and a long discussion with David Arnot …a knowledgeable personal trainer and sports nutritionist. I sent him a food diary of my training and rest days.

Yup… there wasn’t much difference between a training day and a rest day and my carb intake was minimal.
David hammered into me that my food intake on a training day should be significantly higher than on a rest day as it was causing a severe calorie deficit, low energy availability for my body and that I needed those post work out carbs for optimum recovery!
This sounds like I was starving myself…absolutely not, I eat loads… just not enough for the level of training I had been doing!

No wonder my menstrual cycle had stopped, I was craving and binging on cake, muscle leanness had gone and the only cause possible for the IBS could be the massive STRESS I was putting upon my body… and we all know that STRESS means CORTISOL…..and cortisol stops fat burning….. What a spiraling metabolic mess under eating had cause on my body and hormones….

So I had to learn quickly NOT TO FEAR THE CARB….why?

Carbs have been given a bad rep and are very misunderstood by people today due to many low carb fad diets circulating in the fitness world, media and on social networking.
Low carb can be detrimental. Carbs are needed during HIIT/ weight training for fuel. They are stored in the muscle cells as glycogen and provide the energy for a training session.
After training you are glycogen depleted. If you do not replace them immediately post workout your body misses a vital opportunity to enhance recovery. After training finishes your body will desperately look to replace depleted glycogen stores in the muscle. You muscle is like a sponge at this point and all Carbs consumed post work out will be shuttled directly to the muscles and stored as glycogen for energy and NOT as fat!  This ensures optimal recovery and stops muscle loss and yes ladies…those carbs will definatley not make you store fat!

So when it comes to eating carbs…don’t eliminate them, it’s about timing them effectively post workout so the body uses them for glycogen stores and not fat stores…. and I’m not saying you should be eating a slice of cake or mars bar post work out, but making good nutritious carb choices will be beneficial too!

To try and regulate my hormones and restore the metabolic damage I had self inflicted… David basically prescribed me more food and carbs!
Simple changes like having two bananas with my protein shake post work out as well as ensuring I had a decent serving of carbs in my post workout meal …and  allthough I was already eating good nutritious quality whole foods , I just needed to be eating a lot more of them!
We also decided to limit my training to 3 sessions a week while I got myself back on track.

After three months of making those small changes of increasing my energy availability, carbohydrate cycling and being sensible with my training and recovery I noticed the differences…. more energy, less irritable, less epic binges on cake, fewer episodes of my stress related IBS…. oh and after ten months of Amenorrhea… my menstrual cycle started to work again too…but more importantly I started to feel like me again!

I am now training hard and recovering optimally post work out under David Arnot’s  watchful eye 3-4 times a week and learning to find the balance again!
I will get back to being lean again but this time ensure it’s maintained by being sensible!

The past year I have learnt so so much!

The proof is above, I cannot emphasis how important carbs are post work out, especially in females!
I feel like I’m having to start again with my fitness and body composition goals and If I could go back and ensure those mistakes were never made I would… but as they say everything happens for a reason and I guess I’m a lot more educated and knowledgeable about sports nutrition as a result!You best learn from your experiences, but I want you to learn from my experience rather than encounter the above… and I feel very passionate about training, nutrition and female health.
It kills me when I hear girls talking about not eating carbs and training… if only they know the damage it could cause them longer term.Please share my blog to help educate any fitness females you know with carb fear out there.

In a nut shell:

  • Eat carbs post work out
  • Eat good quality carbs
  • Listen to your body… aching, tired? then take a rest day
  • Listen to your body…  binging on cake? it’s likely your not fueling your body the way it needs to be! look at the bigger nutritional picture!
  • Less is sometimes more but if you do insist on training everyday like an athlete then make sure you’re eating like an athlete too… Exercise More, Eat More :)
  • EDUCATE yourself, follow nutritionists on twitter, ask them questions if unsure, listen to sports nutritionist Ben Coombers pod casts – invaluable free information.

Carbs are not the devil…. NOW let me get back to training, eating sensibly and blogging about food :)

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